by Susan Dobkins, Managing Director, Vista Hermosa Foundation
Makawi Chavez is an elder in the Rarámuri (Tarahumara) community in Chihuahua State of Mexico. He and his organization, Tierra Nativa (a Vista Hermosa Foundation grant partner), work across generations to revive and preserve traditional language and practices. The state of Chihuahua recently published the first primer on written Rarámuri, which Makawi and others worked on for over a decade; next steps include children’s books to teach the language. We spoke with him about his thoughts on fatherhood and how indigenous knowledge is passed from one generation to the next in his community.
I believe that being a father is something very, very beautiful in life. It is very beautiful because you share knowledge with your children and give them an example of how to behave in life. How to see yourself as a person. And how to open up from the heart so that others can listen to you.
I am very proud that my sons and daughters have taken the great wisdom of our grandparents, that my grandfather taught me and that today I am teaching my children to value the importance of being Rarámuri. The importance of speaking a language different from other languages. The values of everything that the earth has. That the earth, that Mother Earth always gives us that knowledge about the values of our identity, that makes us identify with these plants, with these animals, with these songs. With the sound of the environment that identifies us. We believe as Rarámuri that we are very attached to nature, in the spirit of all beings inhabiting on earth. Well, I am proud that my children say that we should not touch or kill an animal but rather respect it, talk to it. Ask permission to go through a place, ask permission [to cross] rivers, ask permission at a spring before drinking the water. I instill all this wisdom in my children and my grandchildren.
As a father, I’m proud because two of my daughters are following me very close to the path that I have chosen and what I am doing. My oldest daughter Irma is the one who is currently working in Choreachi [a remote village] with the children of the community. She has a degree as an ecology engineer. So I sometimes tell my daughter well look, you have that degree, but now you lack the spiritual part of your connection with the earth, with the water, with the plants, with the animals, with the wind, with everything that we see that serves us, that helps us to understand what it is to live on earth and what it is to be Raramuri on earth. You know the theory part, but you need to practice concentrating, understanding what the movement of an animal or a plant is like. What happens when you talk to these beings? Do you understand that how it vibrates from your heart?
I learned from my great grandmother and my great uncles. I also became very attached to them the more that they told me. It caught my attention. I don’t know, but my way of being was listening to them. Because listening is learning, right? Not only did I hear, but I listened very carefully. Why do they talk this way? What do they say about this animal? Or why do they say that water has a very powerful spirit and that it can harm us if we damage the lake or when we throw stones at it? So all that was great knowledge, right? That’s how our grandparents taught us to behave so that our lives would be better. I love to share these lessons from our ancestors [with the next generations].